It is an unwritten rule of football that all blitzes shall have highly macho, vaguely silly handles, and this one was no exception. The blitz that essentially ended the 96th Red River Shootout was named Slamdog. It called for Oklahoma strong safety Roy Williams to shoot the gap between the left guard and tackle. Having done so, however, Williams found himself facing Texas tailback Brett Robin. The last time Williams had blitzed, earlier in the fourth quarter, he had attempted to hurdle the blocking back, and it hadn't gone well. Williams had taken a foot in the groin, and Longhorns quarterback Chris Simms had scrambled past him for 11 yards.
"Don't leave your feet!" Sooners defensive coordinator Mike Stoops reminded Williams when he called that blitz again with 2:06 left, Oklahoma nursing a 7-3 lead and Texas pinned on its own three-yard line. Williams didn't listen. He launched himself over Robin and into Simms, hitting the quarterback as his passing arm was coming forward. The ball squirted into the hands of middle linebacker Teddy Lehman, whose two-yard return for a touchdown made the score 14-3.
Williams then rubbed salt in the wound, intercepting Simms's next pass to seal the Sooners' victory at the Cotton Bowl and extend their winning streak to 18 games, best in the nation. The defending national champions have beaten the last six Top 10 teams they've faced despite being underdogs in five of those games.
Texas's loss must have been particularly galling for coach Mack Brown, and not only because it dropped the Longhorns (4-1) from No. 5 to No. 11. Brown appears to have hit a wall in his attempt to bring his program into contention for a national title. Since his arrival in Austin three years ago Brown has restored pride in Texas football. He is 31-12 and has recruited some of the best talent in the country. The only thing he hasn't done is win big games. ( Brown's Longhorns are 3-8 against Top 10 teams.) The grumbling that has emanated from fans and alumni since last year's 63-14 Red River rout will now grow into howls of outrage.
This was the year Texas had a clear shot at the national championship. Its schedule was a dream (no Kansas State, no Nebraska), and its young talent—Simms and wideouts B.J. Johnson and Roy Williams (no relation to Oklahoma's Roy Williams)—had matured. The running game, which had been lost, was found: The "thunder and lightning" combination of freshman sensation Cedric Benson and redshirt sophomore Ivan Williams had amassed 593 yards in four games. Simms had spent countless hours over the summer throwing to what was billed as one of the most dangerous receiving corps in the nation.
After putting up gaudy numbers in its first four games against teams that were a combined 7-13, the Texas offense sputtered against Oklahoma. The Longhorns rushed for 27 yards while Simms threw four interceptions and was sacked five times. One could not help thinking, as the Texas offense spun its wheels, that Longhorns senior quarterback Major Applewhite, the 1999 Big 12 offensive player of the year who is known for his grit and resourcefulness, would have mustered more than a field goal with such weapons at his disposal. Asked after the game if he considered inserting his backup quarterback, Brown answered curtly in the negative.
Even as he has labored to avoid a quarterback controversy this season, Brown has bent over backward to make Applewhite feel a part of the team, discussing strategy with him on the sideline and telling anyone who will listen that Applewhite has a job on his staff the minute he finishes playing. Nonetheless, members of Longhorn Nation will demand to see him in a role other than Brown's assistant-in-training.
Whoever is taking the snaps, Texas will have to wait another year to anoint itself a contender. Oklahoma's stunning romp in last year's game launched the Sooners' title run. It also exposed the Longhorns as an overrated collection of solo acts that was less than the sum of its parts. Brown made changes in the off-season. After naming Simms the full-time starter, the coach overhauled the offense. For the first time since Ricky Williams left after winning the Heisman Trophy in 1998, Texas worked to establish the running game. Brown's desire for offensive balance led to the emergence of redshirt sophomore tailback Ivan (Diesel) Williams, who came into Saturday's game averaging 5.7 yards per carry. The team awaiting Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl was tougher, better balanced and more cohesive than the squad the Sooners embarrassed a year ago.
In the end it didn't matter. Oklahoma, using a scheme similar to the one with which it handcuffed Florida State to win the national championship last January, shut down the Longhorns by controlling the line of scrimmage and taking away the long ball. To neutralize Texas's deep threats—Johnson and the other Roy Williams—the Sooners often played five and six defensive backs. Normally that makes you vulnerable to the run. Normally you don't have an athlete like Oklahoma's Roy Williams on your roster. Williams, a 6-foot, 215-pound junior, is the key to the Sooners' superb nickel defense. He's the rare strong safety who covers like a cornerback and plays the run like a linebacker. "He's the best defensive player I've played against," said Simms after the game.
"He always finds a way to be where the ball is," says Sooners coach Bob Stoops. "Run, pass, everything. He's got a great feel for the game."